Watch “The Midnight Parasites,” a Surreal Japanese Animation Set in the World of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1972)

Hierony­mus Bosch’s bizarre paint­ings might have looked per­fect­ly ordi­nary to his con­tem­po­raries, argues Stan­ley Meisler in “The World of Bosch.” Mod­ern view­ers may find this very hard to believe. We approach Bosch through lay­ers of Freudi­an inter­pre­ta­tion and Sur­re­al­ist appre­ci­a­tion. We can­not help “regard­ing the scores of bizarre monsters”—allegories for sins and pun­ish­ments far more leg­i­ble in 15th-cen­tu­ry Netherlands—“as a kind of dark and cru­el com­ic relief.”

While Bosch might have intend­ed his work as seri­ous ser­mo­niz­ing, it is impos­si­ble for us to inhab­it the medieval con­scious­ness of his time and place. There’s just no get­ting around the fact that Bosch is real­ly weird—weird­er even (or more imag­i­na­tive­ly alle­gor­i­cal) than near­ly any oth­er artist of his time. In some very impor­tant ways, he belongs to a 20th-cen­tu­ry aes­thet­ic of post-Freudi­an dream log­ic as much as he belonged to pecu­liar medieval visions of heav­en and hell.

Bosch “described ter­ri­ble, unbear­able holo­causts crush­ing mankind for its sins,” writes Meisler, visions that seemed both stranger and more famil­iar in the wake of so many man-made holo­causts whose absur­di­ties defy rea­son. What mod­ern hor­rors does famed Japan­ese ani­ma­tor Yōji Kuri invoke in his psy­che­del­ic 1972 film “The Mid­night Par­a­sites,” above, a sur­re­al­ist short set in the world of Bosch?

Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Paul Gal­lagher describes the plot, such as it is:

Here Kuri imag­ines what would life might be like if we all lived in Bosch’s paint­ing “Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights.” It’s a basi­cal­ly shit and death or rather a cycle of life where blue fig­ures live and die; eat shit and shit gold; are skew­ered, and devoured; are regur­gi­tat­ed and reborn to car­ry on the cycle once again.

Kuri’s satir­i­cal vision, in films long favored by counter-cul­tur­al audi­ences, has “bite,” writes Ani­ma­tion World Network’s Chris Robin­son: “he helped lift Japan­ese ani­ma­tion out of decades of cozy nar­ra­tive car­toons into a new era of graph­ic and con­cep­tu­al exper­i­men­ta­tion. His films mock and shock, attack­ing tech­nol­o­gy, pop­u­la­tion expan­sion, monot­o­ny of mod­ern soci­ety… Wit­ness­ing the sur­ren­der of Japan dur­ing WW2, the dev­as­ta­tion of his coun­try fol­lowed by the quick rise of West­ern inspired mate­ri­al­ist cul­ture and ram­pant con­sump­tion, Kuri, like many of his col­leagues at the time, ques­tioned the state and direc­tion of his soci­ety and world.”

His cre­ative appro­pri­a­tion of Bosch, “dark, dirty, odd­ly beau­ti­ful, with a groovy sound­track,” Gal­lagher writes, may not, as Meisler wor­ries of many mod­ern takes, get Bosch wrong at all. Though the Dutch artist’s sym­bol­ism may nev­er be comprehensible—or any­thing less than hallucinatory—to us mod­erns, Kuri’s half-play­ful reimag­in­ing uses Boschi­an fig­ures for some seri­ous mor­al­iz­ing, show­ing us a hell world gov­erned by grave laps­es and cru­el­ties Bosch could nev­er have imag­ined.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fig­ures from Hierony­mus Bosch’s “The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights” Come to Life as Fine Art Piñatas

Hierony­mus Bosch Fig­urines: Col­lect Sur­re­al Char­ac­ters from Bosch’s Paint­ings & Put Them on Your Book­shelf

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Hierony­mus Bosch’s Bewil­der­ing Mas­ter­piece The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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